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Have empathy, want change: capstones they care about

Students research topics of interest, propose solutions

Grand Rapids — Seniors Marilis Lucas and Cynthia Marcelino faced the same predicament after completing driver’s training classes.

The friends both needed 50 hours of practice driving, but their parents, from Guatemala and Mexico respectively, do not have licenses and couldn’t help.

The girls ended up relying on cousins and other licensed adults to meet the requirements, but the situation left them wanting to stand up for their family members who cannot legally drive.

Marilis and Cynthia, who were born in the U.S., presented “Driving without Fear” during Senior Capstone Presentation Night recently at Grand Rapids Public Museum High School. They presented their video to visitors after a school year’s worth of research on challenges faced by undocumented immigrants who cannot legally get a license. (Legislation is currently proposed to change the law.)

‘We are thinking backwards: What do we want our graduates who are going into this ever-changing world to come out of high school with?’

— teacher Lindsay Lane

The girls made connections through the Hispanic Center of West Michigan Michigan United and other organizations to interview people on the topic. They passed out fliers related to the issue and planned to participate in a May 1 march to advocate for the change  in Grand Rapids.

“We are hoping to bring awareness to everyone …These are students, patients, friends, families, loved ones,” said Cynthia. 

Added Marilis, “Researching was sad. We felt empathy. Now that we have empathy, we want to make a change.”

Citizens like themselves can make a difference, Cynthia said. “Young people like us that know about this struggle can vote.”

Tatum Lubbers proposes tiny homes as a solution to local homelessness

A Range of Issues 

Marilis and Cynthia were among 62 students during the two-night event who presented 44 capstone projects in the form of videos, slideshows, blog posts, a zine and portfolios on issues they care about. The range of topics  included morel mushrooms, youth mental health, climate change, ink therapy (tattoos), homelessness, pediatric cancer funding, and public and charter schools. Many students drilled global issues down to a local and personal level.

“We asked them to identify some problem —  the more local, specific and relevant the better —  but also something they are really interested in and passionate about. That manifested itself differently for different kids,” said teacher Tom Peterson.

Added teacher Lindsay Lane, “The purpose is for it to be a culmination of students’ experiences at Museum School. A lot of students who come to Museum School really embrace doing learning differently, and recognize that the traditional way we’ve done school doesn’t always really embrace the aspect of (authentic) learning … We are thinking backwards: What do we want our graduates who are going into this ever-changing world to come out of high school with?”

Senior Anneka Spolema shows ways to fight climate change

Local Solutions to Global Issues

As part of her project, “Fighting Climate Change in Your Own Backyard,” senior Anneka Spolema created seed bombs containing purple coneflower and black-eyed susan seeds for people to bring home. “This was meant to be an easy, take-home solution to get people invested in the idea of native planting and connecting with nature,” she said.

She shared individual actions like turning off the faucet while brushing teeth, eating less meat and dairy, taking shorter showers and using green roofs and solar panels.

‘We asked them to identify some problem —  the more local, specific and relevant, the better —  but also something they are really interested in and passionate about.”

— teacher Tom Peterson

Anneka worked with Plaster Creek Stewards, Climate Witness Project and Sunrise Movement. She also took an environmental science class at Grand Rapids Community College and loves watching the bees and butterflies in the rain garden at her house. “The main thing I try to think about are the things that advocacy can do in spreading information about climate change,” she said. 

After researching homelessness, senior Tatum Lubbers presented “Tiny Homes,” as a solution to homelessness in Grand Rapids. As part of her research, she attended a meeting in March about homelessness and related issues and compiled data on homelessness numbers.  

She said Tiny Home communities are working in other states and can help address the growing local issue.

“This is an amazing thing,” she said. “It’s truly helping people.”

Read More from GRPS:
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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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